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that night and its between

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I swear you cannot find anyone who is sincerer than me. 

 


 

It is hours into the night, Xie Lian already cradled deep within sleep’s arms and Puqi Village quiet with only its insects singing, when Hua Cheng sighs. It’s a wistful thing, his mind fogged with visions of the past, merging itself with the future. 

 

If you don’t know what to live for, then live for me. If you don’t know the meaning of living, then make me that meaning, Xie Lian had declared just moments ago, and Hua Cheng had held a breath that he no longer needed from the sheerness of it. Xie Lian of then, saying it with a soft confidence, and Xie Lian of now, reciting it with the theatrics that only centuries’ worth of experience can conceive. Yet, it still felt like a reliving — the disbelief, the hope, the start of it all. How Hua Cheng had stared, with the same reaction through San Lang’s eyes and a heart now undead that would’ve rattled through his ribcage and out his chest. Then Xie Lian laughed, dismissing it yet not, offhanded but sincere and paired with an unfocused gaze, he’d said I wonder how he is now

 

Hua Cheng sighs again, sitting up from where he laid on his side and faced Xie Lian’s back while his thoughts ran amiss. He knows now, Hua Cheng thinks. He knows, he knows, he knows, but he doesn’t, all at the same time. 

 

“Your Highness,” Hua Cheng says with a quiet smile, wanting but not daring, not yet, to run his fingers through his hair, through the long brown waves that cascade down his back and untangle any knot he may find. One day, hopefully. If Xie Lian allows him, like he did to him, despite its pretense. 

 

Xie Lian looks peaceful in his slumber, though he always does, awake or not, with his serene smile and friendly features, now submerged in rest — softened with it. Too friendly, Hua Cheng decides, with how he had accepted this San Lang so quickly. “You cannot trust so easily, Your Highness, leaving yourself unguarded like this.” It’s an admonishment, but Hua Cheng is all too aware of how bittersweet it sounds. There’s still a smile on his lips, you see. 

 

Hua Cheng sits for a moment more, taking in this Xie Lian, how his kindness hadn’t changed, how he still looks the same, if not aged with what life had hurdled him through the past eight hundred years, though even then. Even then, he’s still His Highness, in every sense of the word. 

 

“Ah,” Hua Cheng chuckles, a not so new realization, “Treasured, Your Highness had said.” He murmurs to this little shrine’s cool, open air. Tart, fond. A little sweet, a little sour. (You are supposed to be treasured.)

 

How true, Hua Cheng allows himself to muse. 

 

With a shake of his head, Hua Cheng raises his palm and concentrates, materializing something he had never, not once ever had in the past. The air above his hand wobbles for a few seconds before it starts to glow, and through the glimmering light, a sliver of silver starts to peek. 

 

Once the air had stilled and the light now settled, the object that had shone is now neatly placed in the center of Hua Cheng’s palm. It’s a small thing; a quaint precious little ring hanging from a long enough thread to loop around someone’s neck. The ring isn’t quite wholly made from gem with it’s surface being almost translucent, but it still shines luminously with every hit of moonlight, dazzling with flecks of solid grey from within, infused with it as it was made.

 

Hua Cheng smiles, a little giddy, as he lets the ring dangle from his hold on the thread. It twirls before it rests, the reflections of its shine landing on Xie Lian’s white robes as it does on Hua Cheng’s maple; a tiny beacon of silveresque light in the dark of Puqi Shrine.

 

Hua Cheng shuffles carefully across the bamboo mat until he's not even a forearm’s length away from where Xie Lian lays blissfully asleep. He folds his legs in a manner that gives him leeway to gently tug Xie Lian to his back, where in doing so Xie Lian’s arm winds up on his lap. Hua Cheng bites the inside of his cheek when he sees Xie Lian’s brows furrow in response, but it only lasts a second before they settle back to their peaceful state. 

 

An inaudible sigh of relief passes through Hua Cheng’s lips before he’s smiling again, taking hold of Xie Lian’s arm on his lap to place back across its owner’s stomach. He huffs through his grin, “Your Highness,” He starts conversationally, looking back at the necklace on his palm before he lays it on top of Xie Lian’s sternum, tracing the ring one last time before he hovers the same palm above it, pausing, flicking his gaze back to Xie Lian’s sleeping face — one to check if he’s still unconscious and one just because, and smiles adoringly. Must you be endearing even when asleep, he doesn’t say, but with the way his expression is as it is at the white-robed man, it would be telling enough. 

 

Hua Cheng seems to bring his wits back together after a moment’s staring, and in the next beat, the same wobbly air returns where the necklace is. This time there is no glow, only how the necklace’s thread floats and wriggles as it fades into translucency, up to the point where only the barest outline of its round edges are visible. With a gesture of his hand, the see-through thread breaks in half and dances through the air, stopping right as it arrives before the bob of Xie Lian’s throat. The split ends go around it, and only when they meet again on Xie Lian’s nape do the ends rejoin and return to its original matter of singularity and solidity. 

 

Hua Cheng waves his palm across the air, manipulating the thread so it tucks itself beneath Xie Lian’s robes and ripples it until it reaches the ring and carries the small object to lay properly above Xie Lian’s sternum, hidden and safe underneath his robes, resting and rising along his heart’s beats. 

 

“Your Highness,” Hua Cheng murmurs, hand moving to Xie Lian’s face, dazed and floaty, before Hua Cheng’s consciousness catches up to him and his fingers twitch back, halting right when his palm would have caressed Xie Lian’s cheek. Hua Cheng breathes an unneeded breath, “Apologies.” he swallows, and brings his hand back to the mat, palm flat against the bamboo. A rueful laugh escapes him.

 

“The next time Your Highness sees me, this lowly one promises it is with his true self.” Hua Cheng says to Xie Lian’s sleeping figure, promises, offers one last smile, small and fond, and then he’s gone.